The Rivalry That's Ready-Made For Origin

When Latrell Mitchell left James Roberts clutching at thin air at Suncorp Stadium just a few weeks ago, it was clear he had gained an early lead in one of the most enthralling one-on-one battles in recent memory. 

But a champion only stays down for so long, and when the Broncos live-wire inspired a comeback victory with a scintillating try down the right-hand touchline, it unearthed Rugby League's newest and most entertaining modern-day rivalry.

Respect is through the roof for him. When you go up against another Indigenous player you always want to be better than him, but even a couple of weeks ago he just turned it on

Latrell Mitchell

When they both don the sky blue jumper next Wednesday night for their State of Origin debuts, Mitchell and Roberts will be looking to make their mark in the pinnacle arena of Rugby League. This time, they'll line-up together. 

It's an ominous warning for the Maroons when two of the most naturally-gifted players in the game form a dynamic centre combination on either side of the park. While they have established a healthy rivalry at club level, they each share an enormous amount of respect that will galvanise the Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues on Wednesday week.

"Respect is through the roof for him. When you go up against another Indigenous player you always want to be better than him, but even a couple of weeks ago he just turned it on," Mitchell told NSWRL.com.au.

"You know it's always going to be hard because you want to go out and have a go at each other, but it comes down to the [mutual] respect we have."

With the ball in hand they send opposition defences into a nightmare - Mitchell blessed with unrivalled brute strength, while Roberts' natural speed and acceleration is the envy of most Rugby League athletes.

But while Roberts is arguably in career-best form, the rejuvenated speedster gave a glowing appraisal of his counterpart and spoke with genuine excitement of the prospect of running out alongside Mitchell in Origin I.

"We've got a lot of respect for each other and we always talk to each other," Roberts said.

"Even from last year coming into games - It's a good rivalry we got there but it's going to be good in the future years to keep us both performing and trying to outdo each other.

"I'm looking forward to playing with him."

 

What a battle! #uptheblues #NRL 📷 @chukstagram

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With both players enjoying stellar 2018 seasons so far and their strong run of form helping earn their respective NSW debuts, it will be a career-defining moment when they represent their indigenous heritage on Rugby League's biggest stage, and it will ultimately forge one of their proudest moments to date. 

Having both represented the Indigenous All Stars in previous years, next Wednesday night will stand as another chance to represent their respective backgrounds along with fellow teammates Josh Addo-Carr and Tyrone Peachey.

"I'm a proud Aboriginal man and to be able to set a pathway for the younger generation to come through, [I want to inspire them] to put in the hard work,' Mitchell said.

"You've just got to knuckle down and put in the hard work and play footy - but it doesn't have to be footy, it can be anything. Even for the non-indigenous people who look up to me too.

"It's a good feeling to know that the younger generation aspire to be like me, because when I used to be in their shoes I looked up to people.

"You've just got to take opportunities with both hands and just keep going forward."

For Roberts, the opportunity to live out a childhood dream will cap off a remarkable journey for the 25-year-old. It will serve as a chance to represent both his culture and the people who have worked tirelessly to help him become the player and man he is today.

"It's massive for me [to represent my indigenous culture] and that's what I'm most proud about, I think," Roberts said.

"It's for my family as well, they know how hard I've tried to get to where I am now and the sacrifices I've made.

"But to be able to be an indigenous player and to play in NSW now, it's a massive achievement and something I'm very proud of."